It is a commonplace of communications that for an organization and its senior management to survive a crisis, at least with its reputation relatively intact, it should act with integrity. But what does integrity mean in these circumstances?
There are a multitude of complex compliance models of integrity such as the one appended here and used by the pharmaceutical company Novartis at "Citizenship@Novartis" to guide its corporate responsiblity program.
Impressive, yes, but impractical as a guide to behaviour when an organization and a CEO's back are to the wall and decisions about what to say and when to say it have to be made in a moment.
Michael Jensen, founder and co-chairman of the Social Science Research Network and a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, thinks of integrity ("what it takes for a person to be whole and complete") as honouring your word:
We can honour our word in one of two ways: first, by keeping our word, and on time as promised; or second, as soon as we know we can't keep our word, we inform all parties involved and clean up any mess that we've caused in their lives. When we do this, we are honouring our word despite having not kept it, and we have maintained our integrity.
(Note the reference is from an article in the Fall 2009 issue of the Rotman School of Management magazine which is not available online.)
Not bad advice for an organization or CEO troubled by a crisis of reputation: Inform everyone affected about what's going on: Recognize the mess you've caused; Clean it up.